Can your organization work without bosses? In the documentary, Ban the Boss (one hour BBC video) Paul Thomas shows that most organizations can run just fine without bosses, or at least without traditional, hierarchical bosses who tell workers what to do.
Gwynn Dyer explained that historically, hierarchies were the result of a communications problem, in Why the Arabs can handle democracy.
A mass society, thousands, then millions strong, confers immense advantages on its members. Within a few thousand years, the little hunting-and-gathering groups were pushed out of the good lands everywhere. By the time the first anthropologists appeared to study them, they were on their last legs, and none now survive in their original form. But we know why the societies that replaced them were all tyrannies.
The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.
We have been able to communicate with each other better and better for the past half century, and now with mobile communications we need even fewer intermediaries to get work done. Many bosses don’t have a clue what is actually happening at the front-end, as is clear in the BBC documentary, and as I wrote in network walking.
Bob Marshall alerted me, via Twitter, to this documentary that shows just how difficult it can be to change attitudes and beliefs about work. In this case, the obvious place to start a boss-purge was at the vehicle service bay, with nine skilled mechanics “supported by” eight managers. The workers wound up keeping one manager, but on their terms. Other departments were more difficult.
Could you imagine if workers were allowed to vote their bosses in and out? Well they can now in Blaenau Gwent, Wales; as they have been able to do at Semco SA for decades. Listen to Ricardo Semler explain how Semco organizes work and “staff determine when they need a leader, and then choose their own bosses in a process akin to courtship”.
Yes, there is a different, and better, way to get work done, with fewer managers. If all you have are general management and supervision skills, your work days may be numbered.